June Message from the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health

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MHS Team:

As the Department and the Nation begin to transition to reopening in
alignment with White House guidelines, the Military Health System continues
to focus on our mission to prepare, protect, and care for our service
members and beneficiaries. I am increasingly impressed with your endeavors
serving on the front lines, despite the unprecedented challenges our Nation
is currently facing. While many of you have had to manage changes to your
daily lives due to COVID-19, you continued to rise above those hurdles to
ensure our military, their families, and our retirees continue to get the
best quality healthcare we can provide.

Some updates on current MHS issues:

Vaccine and Therapeutics Acceleration Plan. Health Affairs is partnering
with the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological,
Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND) in implementing a strategy to
accelerate development of COVID-19 vaccines and antibody therapeutics. This
joint effort, funded by the CARES Act, capitalizes on our enormous capacity
to develop, manufacture, and distribute medical countermeasures to the
force. Antibody therapeutics could play a vital role in supporting our
operational missions with prophylaxis measures and post-exposure treatment
options.

COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma. The Department has launched an effort to
obtain 10,000 units of COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma (CCP) in support of
force readiness. It is critical to collect as much plasma as possible, both
for potential treatment purposes now as well as for use in research efforts
and potential use as a future therapeutic. To qualify to be a donor, DoD
personnel and their families, as well as non-DoD civilians with access to
collection facilities on installations, must have fully recovered from
COVID-19 to support this effort. To date, we have already obtained 4,367
units through a combination of procurement and individual donations at Armed
Services Blood Program donor centers across the continental United States,
Hawaii, Guam, and Germany. More on this campaign can be found here:
https://www.militaryblood.dod.mil/Donors/COVID-19andBloodDonation.aspx.

A special call out to Navy Medicine who, in support of the DoD CCP campaign,
sent a team to Guam and rapidly collected CCP from volunteers aboard the USS
Theodore Roosevelt. Over the course of three days, the blood donor center at
U.S. Naval Hospital Guam collected more than 200 life-saving plasma units.
This was the first of many donations as crew from the USS Kidd also
contributed plasma.

Navy Medicine is also directly involved in COVID-19 research efforts. For
the past two months, the USS Theodore Roosevelt was the focus of a public
health outbreak investigation conducted by the Navy and Marine Corps Public
Health Center in partnership with the CDC. Volunteer crew members completed
a short survey and provided two specimens for laboratory testing (voluntary
blood and nasal swab samples). This was the first CDC-published report on
this specific demographic of young adults. One of the key findings was that
loss of taste or smell was the main symptom most associated with COVID-19
infection. This joint effort furthers our understanding of this disease and
will inform future testing and mitigation strategies to ensure the readiness
of our Nation’s military force.

Force Health Protection Guidance Supplement 11. On June 11, 2020, the
Department issued new Force Health Protection guidance outlining the
military’s surveillance strategy for the COVID-19 pandemic response,
including health surveillance activities, screening, asymptomatic testing,
and sentinel surveillance testing. The Department’s surveillance and
screening strategy is designed to break the chain of disease transmission to
reduce risk to the force and to DoD missions. The full guidance can be found
here:

https://media.defense.gov/2020/Jun/12/2002315485/-1/-1/1/DOD-Guidance-for-CO
VID-19-Surveillance-and-Screening-with-Testing.pdf.

COVID-19 Registry. The DHA has established a COVID-19 Registry to provide a
centralized data collection platform of COVID-19 patients. This registry,
which already includes data from 6,510 patients, will support COVID-19
clinical performance improvement and track the epidemiology of the disease.
The data will help research and medical teams, both in the DoD and the
civilian sector, provide more accurate insight into future advancements in
vaccines and treatments. The registry also will track the outcomes of
patients who receive COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma compared to those who do
not – all of which will greatly enhance efforts toward therapeutic treatment
development. The expediency of the design, implementation, and execution of
this monumental task would not have been possible without the dedication and
hard work of Col Stacy Shackelford, Chief, DHA Joint Trauma Center (JTS),
and Mr. Phil Sartin, Data Acquisition Branch Chief for JTS.

As communities begin to slowly open back up, please stay vigilant. The COVID
fight is not over. Many of you are working tirelessly in MTFs, labs, or in
supporting roles to help achieve our health system’s goals and meet the
evolving needs of the Department. Your efforts are critical to ensuring we
accomplish our mission. Please practice self-care, take time for your
families, and check in on each other. As a medical enterprise, we must
remain strong and healthy to ensure we keep our military in the fight.

Thank you for your service and selfless commitment to our troops, their
families, and to our Nation during these challenging times.

Tom

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